Integral Coaching as a Tool for Transformational Change

Marina Danilova

Marina Danilova

Martina Danilova

Martina Danilova

This article outlines general provisions, which form the basis of integral coaching, as well as its methodology. It will give you a general idea of changes that an adult undergoes, and the role and content of the help that a coach provides to his client in the course of these changes. The key points are supported by real-life examples from my practice, but those examples are represented not in full and at times even superficially to merely illustrate the material as the size of the article and its goals do not presuppose any deep comprehensive description.

Despite the fact that nowadays it would seem that everyone knows what coaching is we should begin with a definition of “coaching” as treated by the Saint Petersburg Coach Institute. So, it is very simple, coaching is cooperation between a coach and a client for the client’s purposes, while the purposes set are higher than the current possibilities of the client and cannot be achieved by means of one’s usual behavior strategies That is, coaching is in demand in cases where the external circumstances and internal discomfort and frustration push people to change their behavior to achieve new, different results. Additionally, if a person cannot cope with this by himself, he may be willing to accept help.

Coaching deals with changes: they should start, steadily continue and be maintained while a more self-actualized, developed and free “version” of a personality.

The objective of this article is to make you familiar with the “internal overview” of integral coaching, with its “roots”, with how it helps to fulfill the necessary changes as rendered to a client. We will not focus on HOW this happens. We will only consider WHAT is in focus of a coach’s attention, what world outlook and methodological axioms he rests on, and in accordance with this, what his intentions in work with his client are.

These are the main postulates integral coaching are is based on:

  • Changes can be translational and transformational. Depending on the type they require different approaches.
  • Integrity, integral perception and influence are obligatory conditions of transformation and provide maximum easiness and steadiness on the way of changes.
  • Objectification of human inner aspects makes it possible to influence them.
  • Actualization and relying on the existing experience and skills provide for possibilities to form something new.
  • Consideration of the zone of proximal development ensures stability of motivation and allows finding a method more appropriate for a certain person.

The whole methodology is based on the works of several theorists and practitioners in the field of systems development in general and man in particular. Whenever I need to give a direct quote, I will provide a link. But, on the whole, the methodology comprises both our understanding of the classics and contemporaries, and the way we apply the knowledge we have obtained to the current practice, and our own developments based on the experience of working with clients and teaching coaching. These are our teachers:

Ken Wilber is a modern philosopher, the author of integral development theory (“Integral Vision”, “A Brief History of Everything”, and “Integral Philosophy”.)
Erhard Werner is the author of the “EST” training, which is the first to feature individual help to a client to implement the changes here and now through change of filters of perception and behavior strategies
Milton H. Erickson is an absolutely unique consultant, who managed to create paradoxical exercises, practices that lead the client to a “failure” in long held inner ties and to changes in behavior strategies. He brilliantly used the metaphor that allowed one to achieve deep insights (Ronald A. Havens The Wisdom of Milton H. Erickson, Milton H. Erickson My Voice will Go with You: The Teaching Tales)
Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow are creators of a humanistic, client oriented approach in psychotherapy within which a psychotherapist, coming to a deep personal contact with a patient, sees in him not a patient but a “client”, who takes responsibility for solving his own problems by enhancing the creative element of his own “Self” (e.g.: C. Rogers, “On Becoming a Person”, “Client-centered Therapy”; A. Maslow “Self-actualizing people: a study of psychological health.”).
Roberto Assagioli is the author of psychosynthesis, whose postulates of multiplicity of subpersonalities, their interaction and need in synthesis are largely resorted to by such modern coaches as Timothy Gallwey, John Withmore (Assagioli “Psychosynthesis”).
Clare W. Graves, Don Beck created a system of levels of evolution of humans and societies and described the system of stable interdependence of living conditions and human worldview (“Spiral Dynamics”).

We should also mention our colleagues from the USA and Canada who are engaged in development of methodology of integral coaching and its application in practice and whose experience gives us an opportunity to look at our experience from a different point of view, analyze it and further develop our own approach: Dana Carman; Joanne Hunt; Laura Divine; Jesse Mackey.

Adult development – Translation and Transformation

Ken Wilber names two types of changes in a person:
Basically human beings consist of several components, including body, including mind, including spirit. And the mental dimension is the dimension that we interpret the world from, the dimension that we create meaning with, that we create values with, and generally our self-identity on the relative plane. And one of the interesting things about the mind of course is that it develops, and it develops through several stages or levels of development. And each level has a different need, a different motivation, a different value structure—generally a different worldview. And these worldviews have been investigated by Western developmental psychologists.

And to give one simple example, because the wording is so easy to understand, is the pioneering genius Gene Gebser, who was the first to describe levels of development. He called them in the following way: archaic, magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, and integral.

And so that is one of the main definitions of transformation, is this vertical movement through these structures or levels of consciousness, so there’s a genuine change in values, a genuine change in worldview, a genuine change in the way the world is perceived and experienced and felt. 

Translation is the move that you make on any particular level. Expansion is hardening on the level where you stand now. For example, you are an HR Director in a medium-sized company that is on the “go-go” stage (by classification of Ichak Adizes), and you come to work in a larger company from a different industry. You have a bigger salary, more people under command, the company has a larger geography, but is at the same “go-go” stage, which means that the subject matter of the tasks you have is approximately the same as before. The situation will require from you a faster reaction while solving problems, consideration of a larger number of objects, but no change in your thinking paradigm or operational logic.

But in a person’s life there comes a moment when he no longer wants to translate himself within the level at which he is; when he wants and really needs to move on to a higher, wider, deeper level of consciousness, level of empathy, level of awareness, level of attention to a different world view in general.
This is what transformation?

For example, you work in Gasprom, appreciate that you are part of this company, respect statuses and hierarchy, observe all written and unwritten rules, act in the interests of your family, group, team first of all. And here comes the time when you cease to feel the satisfaction from this, you are kind of overfilled with this lifestyle, you “feel sick” of people only interested in personal results, their desires, their talents and their realization, their personal success, you notice that the market is full of companies that cherish such ideology, at home there is a brewing conflict of contradicting interests and desires … A radical, transformational change is looming ahead.

Sometimes external environment, changes in living conditions of a person, changes in systems, that he is part of, require him to transform. And this person faces a significant choice: either change yourself or quit the system. For example, it happens as a result of mergers and acquisitions when companies differ greatly in culture; it happens when you move abroad; it happens in a crisis, such as that of 2008.

For a coach work with a client in need of translational changes will differ from that with a person in need of transformational change. It is also important to help the client to understand what changes are really required and how much it’s worth. Transformational change usually take at least 9-12 months, they will require a truly integral work (see below). Translational changes can be implemented in a period from 3 months and more.


Integrity: Wholeness as a Basis of Steady Changes and a Necessity to Implement Transformational Changes.

A human is an integral system that includes both internal characteristics (motives, needs, peculiarities of character, and various emotional, mental and physical complexes formed in the course of personality development; philosophy, etc.) and external characteristics (physical condition and appearance, behavior, etc.). A person lives in a society, he is part of a number of systems, and more or less corresponds to them functionally, performs certain roles and these systems have a common mentality, a certain quality of relationship. These systems and relationships (family, clan, circle of friends, work team, city, state, etc.) influence the person, often supporting his current lifestyle, expressed in his inner nature and behavior, one can even say, these conditions of life in some way determine it. Ken Wilber describes these four dimensions, the four aspects, as quadrants in the integral model (See “Integral Vision”).

Any event in our life as such is reflected in at least four aspects: individual/internal, individual/external, collective/internal, collective/external. In real life most often we are aware one or two familiar (favorite) aspects, looking as if through a prism of a certain dimension. This is especially obvious under stress. In most cases this does not prevent us from living, and even creates a specific success corresponding to our current way of life.

For example, a person who perceives the world through the prism of “relationship” creates extremely strong ties with other people, a person who first of all perceives the aspect of “behavior” manages to do a lot and achieves good personal results.

But here appear some tasks that cannot be solved in the ways that we are used to. And in this situation, usual, typical perceptual filters do not give a chance to see different perspectives, to go beyond, to see the picture clearly and integrally with all its relationships and interdependencies. But that’s only half the battle – the changes implemented partially, with a focus on familiar, noticeable aspects are, first, extremely difficult, painful and energy-consuming, and secondly, they are not stable.
That’s when the problems require a change in “lifestyle” characteristic of the client’s theme, change of perception and behavior strategies, different types of partial impact (training, aimed at increasing knowledge and skills, changes in the structure and/or business processes in the company; change of partner, etc.), they will only bring short-term effects, and add a sense of frustration and fatigue. As Wilber says: “Cut off one quadrant and the rest will bleed to death.”

As ordinary people, we are rooted in our current lifestyle, in our way of perception of the world, in the use of our usual filters. Our automatisms allow us in countless situations to act quickly, without wasting energy and achieve desired results. But at the same time they become an obstacle to change.

This is why we need someone who will help us to move beyond our perception, to expand the range of our awareness, to move across the “edges” of our behavior, gradually creating a new experience, someone who with his attitude will create a comfortable atmosphere for this and by his faith will support and/or challenge us, someone who can help to find and/or create systems that will support the changes.

This someone IS the coach.

The difficulty is that any coach, like any normal person has his own filters and “favorite” quadrants. And his expertise lies in the ability to realize this and be able to “switch on” other points of perception, as well as in the ability to “look from above”, seeing a complete picture. This is a complex skill that develops over years of specialized practices. But what competencies a coach should have, how they develop, is quite another story.

Here is an example that only illustrates the first part of this thesis – an integral description of a current situation in the stated subject. I will cite only a part of what is there on the map to illustrate the thesis of the “circle”.
The client, let us call him Peter, has been working for a company in the position of department head for about 5 years, the company has been acquired by a larger one with a significantly different culture, business processes, ways of decision taking, structure of management.

This is the way the circle, which led to success in the previous structure, looks.

Individual/Internal:Convictions: The most important thing is to solve a problem in right, invent, create something new, something that will ensure most success in the market, and then implement this gradually. At the same time, this is very important to consider interests of all participating parties.Motivation: to be the best and to be recognized, acclaimedFear to do wrong, not to satisfy the parties concerned, fail to correspond to the image of a “successful leader” Behavior:Has discussions with colleagues, staff, organizes creative processes in the team achieves the best performance from his subordinates. Makes suggestions to the “top” and seeks feedback, interacts with the management. Stands in constant correspondence, coordinates actions by e-mail.Carefully analyzes the results, prepares presentations that demonstrate the results achieved by the division.
Relations in the team, the culture of the company:Polite, correctHigh degree of openness in discussions, “yes” means YES, “no” means “not now, not enough resources, too risky, it does not correspond to the strategy”Common desire to maintain friendly relations.The hierarchy in the relationship is there and corresponds to the hierarchy in the structure. The seniors in the hierarchy are interested in the opinion of the juniors, initiative and independence are welcome.Professionalism expressed in real results is recognized and appreciated Systems:The structure provides for a great number of horizontal links and interdependencies. A lot of horizontal projects. A part of decision-making power, and especially development of possible solutions is delegated to heads of departments, objectivity is ensured by the need of horizontal coordination.A lot of meetings.Coordination of some questions by e-mail is considered acceptable.The system of accountability and monitoring results are connected with the system of incentives.Business is transparent enough for both employees and the state.

You can clearly see how the four quadrants support and nourish one another; they are interdependent and help to achieve certain results both for the person and the company.

So, at the FIRST stage, the integral coach helps the client to understand how to look at himself from outside, integrally, be complete in all relationships and interdependencies (wholly), internal and external aspects of his life, influencing the stated theme. Usually, it looks like a vicious circle or spiral, in which both ends are also joined and connect all aspects and, in addition, there are “diagonals” connecting and feeding various aspects.

This is the way the map looks at the moment when the work with a coach only starts – when Peter is trying to build in the structure of the new company after the acquisition – he has a new manager. The goal stated for the coaching is “I want to work efficiently in the new company in the same position, but I have been failing so far, the results do not satisfy me and I do not understand what I am doing wrong”.

Individual/Internal:Convictions: The most important thing is to prove a professional, to demonstrate my results, my ability to do this business. If I manage to do this, I will be accepted, and respected here. I need to work even more efficiently, be initiative, ensure growth of dynamicsPolitics is a dirty business. What fools they are – to cut the goose that lays golden eggsThere will come day and they will understand that business is the most important thing.Motivation: “now in this big company I have even more opportunities to make a better product, a product that is new to the market, this is the real SCALE!!!” To be the first, to be the best.Fear – “I will not cope with this task and we blame myself for being week, not flexible, didn’t manage to adjust, to prove a pro”. Behavior:Thorough preparation of presentations, demonstrating the uniqueness of the product, service and success, the results of the division.Asks for meetings new colleagues and the supervisor, at the meetings explains the usefulness of his department and demonstrates successes.Asks questions about ways of communication and decision-making, direct questions on his own usefulness for the company. Persuades his employees to wait, not to quit, demonstrates to the, confidence that everything will be fine and they will go on working. Cannot fulfill a number of tasks as does not get the necessary support and assistance from his colleagues. Has trouble sleeping, suffers from insomnia.Superior manager: ignores emails, does not answer questions, and does not explain his decisions. Says politely and evasively that “everything will be fine”.New colleagues: smile politely, promise, but do not keep the promises they made, do not reply to emails. When asked about the “local rules” answer evasively. Avoid contacts.Old colleagues: part of them quit, another part “lie low” and wait to see what will happen next.
Relations and culture:Long-term loyalty (often to the superior manager) is appreciated.Power and influence always correspond to the position.A person and his compliance with the systems are appreciated, but the results of his work aren’t.“We have long been here, we are all in the same boat, we know better, and you are outsiders”“One must be a politician and know how to build relations, to work in this company and have the power”.The responsibility is concentrated at the top – “the management knows better how and what to do”.The general idea is Business is a machine, it has no soul. People need to perform their functions and be rewarded for their service. Systems:Meetings never result in a definite decision, minutes are not kept. In the next meeting the discussion may go as if nothing has been discussed before.Decisions are made “behind closed doors” and only “over the top”.The structure is strictly hierarchical, horizontal ties are weak.Information is hidden or partially granted. Business is not transparent.The new company is 7 times as big as the old one.Peter’s subdivision has no definite place in the structure of the company, business processes, which will ensure normal functioning, are not clear.

This table clearly shows how the personality of Peter comes in conflict with the system and culture of the company. At the same time the two left quadrants, especially the lower one, – culture and relations – fell out of the client’s perception. He perceived his own, the supervisor’s, his colleagues’ attitude in the usual way, and further tried to enhance his usual behavior (a better presentation, more emails, more meetings), to achieve the former level of functionality of his department and desired results. This caused resentment among the new management, colleagues, and slowed down decision-making in general and all communications in general. Peter began to be taken as an outsider and an upstart.

Some client situations are so complicated and complex that they can’t be considered and resolved using old approaches to word perception and old strategies of client behavior. In this case it’s important that not only the coach looks through the integral prism building relations, preparing system explicit contracts, and helping a client to get insights and include them into behavior. This approach should be delivered to the client. It is meant to help the clients to clearly realize the variety of interrelated and interdependent factors both inside themselves and in the systems they belong to.

The example in this article reflects this situation primarily. It shows how such complex problems/tasks can be solved during individual work and what principles and approaches should be used for it.

What happened with Peter? More than a year has passed since the end of the program of individual coaching. He got the desired position in his institution. He started to work there and built relations with a new manager. He works there effectively enough and remains calm at that. But at the same time his level of self-perception and self-awareness changed so that he lost interest in remaining in the old system. A response came in the form of an offer from another company, which he has accepted most recently.

Finally, I would like to say a special thanks to Dana Carman and Bert Parlee for their contribution to my study of the integral approach. I would like to thank Bert for introducing us to Ken Wilber personally and Dana Carman for long-term cooperation within which he largely shares his consultant experience, is our guide in the world of the integral consulting in the USA and an organizer of our integral journeys.

About the Author

Marina Danilova is the cofounder, managing partner of Coach Institute, coach-consultant, co-author of Russian first book about coaching, Coaching the Russian Way — Courage to Wish. She was the organizer of first International conference on coaching in 2002. In 2007 she was among the top three nominees for the title “Best trainer of the year in Russia”. Her main fields of activity: personal coaching and support, organizational consulting, coordination of consultants team work concerning conduct and support of integral development programs in organizations, development of methodology and technology of implementing changes in integral approach in companies, development and conducting of corporate and opened programs in different directions of business psychology,development and methodical support of coaches training program.